Burkina Faso

Partly Free
53
100
PR Political Rights 23 40
CL Civil Liberties 30 60
Last Year's Score & Status
54 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Presidential and legislative elections held in 2015 and 2020 have laid a foundation for the continued development of democratic institutions in Burkina Faso. While civil society and organized labor remain strong forces for democracy, Burkinabè also face continued insecurity and violence from armed militant groups, militia groups, and government forces.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • The government restricted cellular connectivity for eight days in November as antigovernment protests were held in several cities, including Ouagadougou. Some protests were violent, with acts of vandalism and forceful security responses reported in Ouagadougou.
  • Armed groups attacked security forces, militias, and civilians during the year, causing numerous casualties and internal displacement. As many as 160 people were killed in a June attack on the village of Solhan, while at least 53 were killed in a November assault on a military police outpost near Inata. In December, at least 41 militia members were killed in an ambush in Loroum Province.
  • In April, a military court indicted former president Blaise Compaoré in absentia for his role in the 1987 assassination of then president Thomas Sankara, who he deposed in a coup. The trial remained unfinished at year’s end.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The president is head of state and is directly elected to no more than two five-year terms. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) was reelected in November 2020, winning 57.7 percent of the vote in the first round. Insecurity impeded electoral organization in some areas, particularly in the north and east. Islamist militants also threatened violence against voters. Opposition figures initially alleged fraud, but observers considered the election fair; no formal objections were received by the time the results were certified in December.

The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly. The prime minister recommends a cabinet that is formally appointed by the president. Lassina Zerbo was named prime minister in December 2021 after President Kaboré dismissed his predecessor, Christophe Dabiré.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The 127 members of the National Assembly are directly elected to five-year terms via proportional representation. The November 2020 legislative elections, held concurrently with the presidential poll, were generally viewed as open and fair, despite ongoing insecurity. Voter turnout was reportedly low in some areas due to insecurity and a lack of polling stations. The MPP won 56 seats while the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 20.

Municipal elections held in 2016 showed an erosion of support for CDP in favor of the MPP. Election-related violence prevented polling in some districts. In March 2021, the government delayed local elections to May 2022.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The Independent National Electoral Commission is responsible for organizing elections, and the November 2020 polls were generally well administered. Local observers noted irregularities, such as a lack of ballot papers at some precincts, but reported that these issues did not affect the contests’ integrity.

In 2020, the National Assembly adopted a revised electoral code that drew criticism from opposition politicians. Under the code, the president can refer cases of “force majeure or exceptional circumstances” that impede electoral organization to the Constitutional Council. The code allows the validation of results on the basis of polling stations that operate on election day, with the court’s agreement. That December, the Constitutional Council annulled votes from 200 polling places due to irregularities.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2.002 4.004

The constitution guarantees the right to form political parties, but their ability to participate in political activity is sometimes restricted by the government. The government authorized 146 political groups to participate in the November 2020 elections.

Major parties, such as the MPP, CDP, and Union for Progress and Change, have extensive patronage networks and disproportionate access to media coverage, making it difficult for other parties to build support. Presidential candidates must also provide a 25 million CFA franc ($45,300) deposit.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3.003 4.004

The end of former president Compaoré’s 27-year regime in 2014 gave way to a freer environment in which opposition parties can consolidate popular support and gain power through elections. However, a history of rotation of power between parties has not been firmly established.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2.002 4.004

The Burkinabè military maintains a significant presence in politics, and the history of military intervention poses a threat to democratic stability. In 2015, the presidential guard, which was loyal to Compaoré, attempted to stage a coup but failed after the army’s chief of staff moved to support the transitional government.

In parts of the country, armed militant groups target local leaders for assassination and abduction, prompting some to relocate outside their area of political responsibility.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

The constitution enshrines full political rights and electoral opportunities for all segments of the population. However, a small educated elite, the military, and labor unions have historically dominated political life.

Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions. In 2020, the National Assembly adopted a 30 percent gender quota for party lists and introduced an alternating system meant to improve the position of female candidates on those lists. As of July 2021, however, women occupied only 16 parliamentary seats.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2.002 4.004

Laws are promulgated and debated by the National Assembly. While democratic institutions continue to develop, they cannot withstand the influence of the military and other elite groups. Attacks by Islamic militants severely impede the government’s ability to implement its policies in the north and east.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption is widespread, particularly among customs officials and municipal police. Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally ineffective, though local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide some accountability by publicizing official corruption and its effects.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

The successful 2015 elections and installation of a civilian government signified a marked improvement in government accountability and transparency. However, government procurement processes are opaque, and procedures meant to increase transparency are often not followed. Government officials are required to make financial disclosures, but the information is rarely made public, and penalties for noncompliance do not appear to be enforced. In September 2021, the government launched a new online platform to facilitate the declaration of assets by public officials.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

The media environment has improved in the post-Compaoré era. Since then, defamation has been decriminalized, reporters at the public broadcaster have experienced less political interference, and private outlets operate with relative freedom. However, a 2019 penal-code revision made disseminating information about terrorist attacks and security activity, along with the “demoralization” of defense and security forces, criminal offenses punishable by prison terms of up to 10 years.

In May 2021, the government tightened media access to camps housing internally displaced persons (IDPs), citing journalists’ safety and the “dignity” of residents. In June, the Higher Council for Communication suspended a local outlet’s broadcasts for five days after it allegedly broadcast incorrect information regarding an attack on Solhan.

Journalists also face heightened risks due to militant attacks. In April 2021, three foreign journalists producing a documentary on poaching were abducted and killed.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

Burkina Faso is a secular state, and freedom of religion is generally respected. The population is predominately Muslim with a large Christian minority. Followers of both religions often engage in syncretic practices. However, religious activity is affected by ongoing insecurity. In May 2021, 15 individuals attending a baptism in the village of Adjarara were killed by a group of unidentified assailants.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

Academic freedom is unrestricted, though due to the former regime’s repressive tactics against student-led protests, a legacy of tension between the government and academic organizations persists. In May 2021, students at secondary schools violently demonstrated to protest planned reforms to national exams; one student at an Ouagadougou school died during the protests. The government subsequently announced that school’s indefinite closure, citing damage sustained during the protests, though the school’s teachers called the closure a political decision.

Islamic militant groups in the north and east regularly threaten schools and teachers, resulting in the closure of numerous institutions.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Private discussion is unrestricted in much of the country. However, attacks and intimidation by Islamic militants in the north and east, an increased security presence in response to their activities, and 2019 penal-code revisions have dissuaded people from discussing local news, politics, and other sensitive topics. In some areas, Burkinabè fear surveillance from the informers of Islamic militants, who may attack communities who speak out against them.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and is sometimes upheld in practice. In July 2021, for example, thousands of protesters freely marched in several cities to express their frustration with ongoing insecurity. In October, however, Burkinabè authorities deported a prominent activist who was planning to attend a protest against French military activity in the Sahel. Authorities in the town of Bobo Dioulasso refused to grant a permit for that demonstration, citing security concerns.

On November 19, protesters angered by ongoing militant violence blocked a road leading to Niger, impeding a French military convoy traveling there. Burkinabè security officers and French soldiers fired warning shots at protesters on November 20; at least four protesters were injured. The government restricted cellular services later that day, citing security concerns, and lifted connectivity restrictions on November 28.

The block coincided with protests that were held in several areas, including Ouagadougou; participants called for President Kaboré’s resignation and criticized the government’s handling of the security situation. Some protests, including a November 27 event in Ouagadougou, were violent. Protesters in the capital engaged in vandalism while authorities used tear gas. Several organizers were subsequently arrested in the following days, facing charges like endangering state security and destruction of public property.

In June 2021, government extended a state of emergency across 14 provinces in 6 regions. The state of emergency, which will remain in force through July 2022, allows the government to restrict the freedom of assembly.

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the government extended a state of emergency, which allows authorities to restrict assemblies, in June and because authorities blocked internet access as protests were held in November.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2.002 4.004

While many NGOs operate openly and freely, human rights groups have reported abuses by security forces in the past. NGOs face harassment in carrying out their work and NGO leaders argue that some legal provisions, including vaguely worded terrorism laws, can be misused to silence human rights defenders. NGO members and activists also risk punishment under the 2019 penal-code revisions. In August 2021, civil society leader Pascal Zaida was arrested for endangering state security after he criticized the government’s response to militant attacks at a press conference. Zaida was subsequently released without charge three days later.

NGO workers also face the risk of violence; in 2019, two Democratic Youth Organization (ODJ) activists were killed while traveling to meet a government official in Yagha Province. In May 2021, the ODJ denounced the government over its handling of the case, noting that autopsies had not been performed.

In September 2021, the government suspended the activities of the Norwegian Refugee Council after it criticized the government’s slow IDP enrollment efforts. The organization was permitted to resume its activities in October.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

The constitution guarantees the right to strike. Unions frequently and freely engage in strikes and collective bargaining, and coordinate with civil society to organize demonstrations on social issues. However, the government has used legal means to suppress union activity, including the denial of permits for planned demonstrations.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 2.002 4.004

The judiciary is formally independent but has historically been subject to executive influence and corruption.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Constitutional due-process guarantees are undermined by corruption and the inefficacy of the judiciary and police force. The judicial system is also affected by ongoing insecurity, which has caused the closure of some courts and has limited access to judicial services.

The Burkinabè government organized and completed its first criminal trials for terrorism offenses in August 2021. However, the terrorism court is underresourced, resulting in long pretrial detentions and slow investigations.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

The security environment is affected by Islamic militant groups, bandits, and militias. Traditional leaders, government officials, lawmakers, and civilians are regularly targeted for kidnapping or assassination by militants. Militants target government institutions, like health clinics and schools, restricting access to government services. Children are increasingly being recruited by militants and engage in armed activity. Ongoing violence has prompted significant internal displacement; in December 2021, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that nearly 1.6 million Burkinabè were internally displaced.

Government forces and state-allied militias like the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) commit extrajudicial violence. Militants, militias, and government forces are believed to orchestrate forced disappearances.

Security forces, militias, and civilians faced armed attacks during 2021, causing numerous casualties. In June, armed attackers, most of them children, targeted the village of Solhan, killing as many as 160 people and prompting a wave of internal displacement. In November, at least 53 were killed when armed assailants attacked a military police post near Inata. In December, at least 41 VDP personnel were killed in an ambush in Loroum Province.

Allegations of torture and abuse of suspects in custody by police are common, and prison conditions are poor. Security forces have been accused of forcibly detaining and abusing civilians.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

While the constitution outlaws all forms of discrimination, prejudice occurs in practice. Members of the Fulani ethnic group have expressed dissatisfaction over government neglect, discrimination, and abuse, particularly at the hands of security forces and militias.

LGBT+ people, as well as those living with HIV, routinely experience discrimination, including difficulty accessing health services. While illegal, gender discrimination remains common in employment and education.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

Due to insecurity, the government has established heavily guarded checkpoints on roads and has instituted curfews and states of emergency in some provinces. Travelers are sometimes subjected to bribery or harassment by security forces at checkpoints. Rural villages in the commune of Madjoari were blockaded by militants during part of 2021. As of May, more than 2,200 schools were closed due to insecurity, affecting over 300,000 students.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

In recent years, the government has implemented reforms to reduce the amount of capital necessary to start a business, facilitating the ability to obtain credit information, and improving the insolvency resolution process. However, the business environment is hampered by corruption.

Insurgents regularly interfered with commercial activities in 2021, including by stealing livestock, imposing taxes, and interrupting mining operations.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Women face discrimination in cases involving family rights and inheritance. Early marriage remains an issue, especially in the north. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is less common than in the past, but still occurs. Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts to combat it. In 2021, female IDPs reported victimization by community leaders who controlled food-aid distribution in exchange for sex.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Burkina Faso is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Child labor is prominent in the mining sector, with 20,000 children working in gold mines. Children are also recruited by militant groups. Women from neighboring countries are recruited by traffickers and transported to Burkina Faso, where they are forced into prostitution.

According to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2021, the Burkinabè government did not prosecute suspected traffickers and provided insufficient support and shelter for trafficking survivors during its reporting period.

On Burkina Faso

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  • Global Freedom Score

    53 100 partly free